Even though the big BCS bowls have yet to be played, there have still been plenty of NFL draft prospects making their mark on bowl season.
Games like the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl, the Russell Athletic Bowl and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl might not mean in much for the teams competing in them, but some big prospects have put on dominant performances to earn the attention of NFL scouts.
Everyone’s heard of the big stars like the Louisville Cardinals’ Teddy Bridgewater, but three underrated players made big statements in their bowl games.
Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh Panthers
The Pittsburgh Panthers’ Aaron Donald has already won just about every major defensive award in college football, but the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl gave him one last chance to show how dominant he can be.
Donald didn’t pile up eye-popping numbers in the game, but he was instead relevant for the way his mere presence completely disrupted Bowling Green’s offense.
The Falcons completely sold out on the offensive line to stop Donald, freeing up other pass-rushers to pressure quarterback Matt Johnson, as ESPN’s Dustin Fox noticed:
Bowling Green might wanna try blocking someone else besides Aaron Donald.— Dustin Fox (@DustinFox37) December 27, 2013
Donald had an ugly moment when he extended a Bowling Green drive with a costly personal foul, but that doesn’t undermine how good he looked in the game.
He was even able to demonstrate his excellent motor by failing to give up on this big sack at the end of the game:
NFL scouts seem concerned about his size for a defensive tackle, meaning that many still project him as second-round pick, but with his stock is definitely on the rise after the bowl game.
DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville Cardinals
Bridgewater may be the name that most people know on the Cardinals, but receiver DeVante Parker certainly raised some eyebrows with his play in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Parker torched the Miami Hurricanes for nine catches for 142 yards and a touchdown, flashing his combination of size and quickness on a national stage.
Standing at 6’3”, Parker has got the size necessary to compete with defenders at the next level and he’s been productive in college with 885 yards and 12 touchdowns this year alone.
Parker certainly improved his stock against Miami, but now the question is whether or not he’ll declare for the draft.
The receiver’s grandfather made headlines when he spoke out about Parker’s plans.
“If they’re not projecting him near the first round,” Willie Parker told the Louisville Courier-Journal, “he’s definitely going to be back for his senior year.”
Projections for Parker seem to put him squarely in the fourth-round range at the moment, falling far short of his first-round aspirations. But Parker might want to leave at the same time as Bridgewater, and it’s tough to tell exactly how much Parker’s grandfather speaks for the receiver himself.
Whether he declares or not, there’s no doubt that Parker impressed scouts with his performance against Miami.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington Huskies
The Washington Huskies rolled to an easy win over the BYU Cougars in the Fight Hunger Bowl, and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins certainly looked impressive as he helped them do so.
The tight end boasts excellent size at 6’6” and 270 pounds and flashed real abilities in the passing game against the Cougars.
He only caught three passes for 37 yards and a score thanks to BYU’s tight coverage, but his touchdown certainly looked good.
He declared for the draft immediately following the game, and early evaluations placed him in the second-round range.
However, he could easily edge into the first round, thanks to NFL teams’ increasing use of tight ends in the passing game.
Yet, for all his receiving abilities, NFL scouts don’t necessarily see him as a pure receiving threat, as CBS Sports’ Derek Harper explains:
In analyzing Seferian-Jenkins, NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Rob Rang compares Seferian-Jenkins to the Jacksonville Jaguars' Mercedes-Lewis: "Like the former UCLA Bruins' star, Seferian-Jenkins unique size and hands made him almost impossible to cover in college, especially in the red zone.
Less than elite speed and fluidity, however, makes Seferian-Jenkins more of a traditional security blanket over the middle rather than the Jimmy Graham-like seam threat so en vogue in today's NFL."
Seferian-Jenkins hasn’t necessarily earned a first-round selection just yet, but the bowl was certainly a big step for him to get there.
Overall, the future of each of these draft prospects is far from set in stone, but they all did quite a bit to improve their draft stock.
Many people dismiss smaller bowls as being meaningless, but with the national television spotlight that they provide, they can actually prove to be quite beneficial to unheralded prospects like Donald, Parker and Seferian-Jenkins.
The NFL draft may be a long way off still, but memories of these bowl performances will undoubtedly stick in scouts’ minds.